Football: The Premier League and the Myth of Competitiveness

The most competitive league in the world, the most unpredictable of all, in which anyone can beat anyone: it was in this way that the Premier League conquered the rest of the world. Over the last ten years, he has won more clubs than any other European league: Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Leicester and Liverpool.

This season, again and for the fourth time in ten years

, only on the last day of the competition we got to know the name of the champion of England. And how! Were it not for Manchester City’s pride in scoring three goals in minutes, the trophy would have gone to Anfield, not Etihad.

Moreover, Wolves and Aston Villa, opening their scoring and bravely defending their chances – when neither team had anything to fear or hope for the prestige of a victory against one of the two current Premier League ogres – clearly gave reason to those “in England don’t have easy games.

The city and Liverpool are over the plot

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To say it, however, is confusing commitment and competitiveness in the truest sense of the word. The former is almost always present in the Premier League, that’s true; but the second, on closer inspection, is now apparently absent in the duel between the first two in its standings. Consider instead the number of points collected by the Manchester City-Liverpool duopoly in 2021-22: 93 and 92, with goal differences of +73 and +68. And compare these numbers with the results of other major European leagues, whether or not they say crushed by superclubs. It’s amazing: neither of them have the same performance as the two English football champions.

Josep Guardiola and Manchester City are still England champions

Source: Imago

Bayern, had the Bundesliga been played for thirty-eight days, would have ended the 2021-22 season with 86 points – which, oddly enough, was also the sum of PSG in Ligue 1, Milan in Serie A and Real Madrid in La Liga. Seven points less than Man City, six less than Liverpool – which has consistently surpassed this impressive record in previous seasons. The Reds twice (98 points in 2018-19 and 99 in 2019-20), as do Citizens (99 points in 2018-19, up from 100 in the previous season).

Such dominance is unprecedented in the history of English football and in the modern era is matched only by Juve de Conte (102 points in 2013-14) Bayern de Heynckes and Pep Guardiola and FC Barcelona by Pep Guardiola, he again, then by Tito Vilanova, who also achieved the level of one hundred points that the PSG roller always refused.

In football, money (often) brings good luck

We’ll say these numbers, unthinkable in a time of another duopoly, Manchester United and Arsenal

, most of all, they reflect the excellence of two teams led by exceptional managers in which we cannot go wrong. But they also reflect, and perhaps most importantly, the financial strength of these two clubs.

Football economists agree on one thing: the clubs dominating their leagues and European competitions, not their turnover and net investment in the transfer market, are their wage bill. Tell me how much you pay, I’ll tell you where you end up. England is no exception to the rule. In the Premier League, as elsewhere, there is a direct relationship – causality, not a correlation – between these wages and success or not on the pitch, as illustrated by the table compiled by analyst Kieran Maguire, author of The Price of Football.

We can see right away that what goes for the top of the table also applies to, and even more so, the bottom: the three people who fell from 2021-22 are in the last four places in this ranking. We also have to add that Liverpool were in second place last year, still behind the untouchable Manchester City, before the significant reduction of Jürgen Klopp’s team (eleven starts against two arrivals) reduced the Reds’ wage bill by £ 11m. Contrary to the Liverpool conqueror in the 1970s and 1980s, known for his savings (which was the driving force behind Kevin Keegan’s departure to Hamburg), this one pays off very well and reaps fruit in our time.

The rare ‘aberrations’ of this table only confirm what we saw on the pitch: the problematic management of Manchester United (and Everton); the extremely sensitive gulf between Tottenham and Arsenal and their supposed rivals in the top four; the added value of a high-quality manager for a smaller squad such as David Moyes in West Ham, Thomas Frank in Brentford and Graham Potter in Brighton. For the rest, everyone is in their place: a place determined by how much a club is willing to pay its players and technical staff. Uncertainty, little or no. Unpredictability, nothing more.

The English want more

The show does not suffer from this to such an extent that it causes the public to disinterest. The technical quality is there – most of the time. Each weekend brings its share of goals that we play in the loop on our TV screens. The stadiums are always full. English football knows better than anyone how to harness its historical and cultural heritage and offer constantly renewed narratives to the media just waiting to be strengthened, often to the point of absurdity. Finally, fortunately, the presence of glittering Liverpool prevents the biggest issuing English clubs from exercising undisputed dominance over the rest of the Premier League, even though four of the last five English league titles have gone to them. The mask is beautiful, but it is a mask nonetheless.

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Maybe Ten Hag can lift Manchester United. Maybe Todd Boehly’s and Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea can raise the bar. No doubt Newcastle, with its billions of Saudi sovereign funds, will join the fight – it will be a matter of two or three years at most. Nevertheless, the logic will be respected: the logic of money.

In 2011-12, 2013-14 and 2018-19. Every time, as this season, Manchester City won the title.

Only three of Alex Ferguson’s thirteen league titles have scored 90 points or more, with a maximum of 92 points in 1993-94, while Arsenal have only achieved this milestone once when “the invincible de Wenger had 90 points in 2003-04”.

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